Let’s face it – deciding whether to send your preschooler to full time or part time preschool is a challenging choice. For some parents who work or have other obligations, full time preschool may be the only option – but what is the difference between full time and part time preschool? How can parents make the best decision for their 3-year-old?
Each preschool program is different – some schools may only offer mornings and some schools might not offer a five-day schedule. Be sure to ask what different options are available for your preschooler and how frequently your child can attend preschool.
“Many families now are two-parent working households, so they need to have the full time care for them,” says Mary Beth Hilborn, interim co-director of Hawken Lower School. “But if you’re a parent who has the option of keeping your child at home with you, then I think it is important to consider, how are they during the day? How is their stamina? When you’re thinking about length of day, if you have an option to keep your child at home, you want to think about what does their afternoon look like currently at the house? If they’re sleeping for a good portion of the afternoon, then it’s probably a good idea just to have them attend school in the morning.”
Children who have spent time away from their parents, such as by attending a camp or by attending daycare, may be better equipped to handle time away from their parents, but this is not always the case. Be sure to explain to your little one the process of preschool and that they will not see Mom or Dad for a little while.
“Children who have experienced time away from their parents prior to entering preschool in some ways do come better equipped to manage full time preschool,” Danielle Hunter, director of education at The Nest Schools, says. “For these children, they have had the chance to learn how to trust and build quality relationships with other caring adults, they feel safe in classroom environments, and they have learned to be around larger groups of children where they have likely experienced social struggles such as sharing toys, taking turns, and speaking up for themselves. Exposure to these things listed above provide a solid foundation of skills necessary for thriving in a preschool environment. Without them children wonder: am I safe here? Is this a place or person I can trust to care for me when I am away from my parents? What is my role in this environment?”
Prepare to Learn
A full day of school is a long day for children of all ages, and it can be an endurance test for children of preschool age.
“There are a lot of things children need to learn in preschool,” says Bob Rosenbaum, who manages communications for Hanna Perkins Center. “At the top of the list is that we want them to learn to enjoy school — so it becomes their choice to go, rather than something they’re compelled to do. Families can’t always accommodate a half-day preschool schedule in today’s world. But for young children, it’s a more manageable length of time. And no matter how long the day is, if the first school experience is of mom or dad disappearing and worrying if they’re coming back, it’s not a step in the right direction.”
For some children, engaging in this social environment may be especially challenging due to the pandemic.
“It’s interesting to see this group of children and see if masking has had an effect on their
ability to read social cues from friends,” Hilborn says.“Depending on how many people they interacted with and who was masked, we’ll see how that affected them. So it’s kind of a question mark if the pandemic affected these children.”
“The pandemic has had a drastic impact on the social and emotional development of our youth,” Hunter says. “Those that either never attended a childcare setting or experienced prolonged absence at one point and time during the last few years really lost out on opportunities to learn and practice new social skills in the most authentic way possible: with and amongst their fellow peers. For many children they lost this time during the pandemic, but it is not impossible to rebuild. It is important for preschools to place as much value on these skills and the overall social-emotional well being and development of their children as they do any other area. Children without solid social-emotional development and skills will struggle to master the more academic pieces too. It all works together – when one area is lacking, they all will be affected.”
Before You Go
While the pandemic raises lots of concerns for parents and can factor into whether your child attends part time or full time preschool, always be sure to ask your school for protocol relating to COVID-19 and what steps are in place to make your child more comfortable and safe at school.
Determining whether your child is ready for full time or part time preschool can be a challenge. Most pre-kindergarteners, who are usually 4 years old, typically attend a five-day schedule.
“Some people may be wondering what makes a 4-year-old more equipped to handle a full-day schedule rather than a 3-year-old,” Hilborn says. “I just think it’s a developmental readiness. If they’ve been in our program for preschool, they’ve been here at least three mornings a week. Adding just another two mornings is a really good step for 4-year-olds.”
Most parents are concerned that their preschooler won’t be able to handle a full-day schedule because their child is too attached and doesn’t like to spend time away from Mom or Dad.
“Children are often more comfortable in situations that present familiar environments, so bringing your child to the preschool and having them see the classroom and meet the teacher can calm their nerves.”
“Showing children that you feel this is a safe place and that you are excited is going to help them feel safe and ready,” Hunter says, “When we save the first visit for the very first day, tension is already high because you know that the drop off is going to be hard and those feelings spill over onto your child.”
While it may be difficult to know for certain if your child is ready for preschool, Hilborn and Hunter say parents should be aware of these telltale signs.
“See how they are during unstructured play time,” Hilborn says. “Do they have the attention to focus on something for a little bit more than five minutes at a time? There’s an indicator that they might be ready to be in a focused environment. Can they be around children, have they been around children and been able to socially navigate and work alongside other children? Have they had experiences playing on a playground or going to a storytime or having some other kind of interaction with other children and do they seem to positively enjoy that? Can they stop one activity and move to another? Are they able to transition from one activity to another and feel good about that? Are they independent? Those are telltale signs that a child might be ready for a school experience.”
“While we would love to provide a “one size fits all” model that determines preschool readiness, this is not the case,” Hunter says. “Every child is going to be different when determining if they are “ready” for preschool. There are, however, some general things you may want to consider: Do they have the stamina to withstand a preschool schedule? Do they enjoy being around other children? Can they participate in group experiences? Can they work independently? Are they relatively independent? Have they expressed interest in going to school? How do they feel being away from you during the day? How do you, as their parent, feel about them entering school? The most important advice for knowing when your child is ready for preschool is to trust your instincts as their parent. You will know when the right time is and what the right program is for your child.”